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Responsible Mining in the Elk Valley

Teck operates five steelmaking coal mines in the Elk Valley of British Columbia which employ over 4,000 people. We raise our families in the valley, fish and swim in the river and care deeply about ensuring the environment is protected. That’s why we’re focused on responsible mining and ensuring that the environment and water quality are maintained in the valley now and for generations to come.

Water Quality in the Elk Valley

The mining process generates large quantities of leftover rock that contains naturally-occurring substances such as selenium, an element that is essential for human and animal health in small amounts. Water from both precipitation and runoff flows through these rock piles and carries selenium and other substances, such as nitrate, into the local watershed. If present in high enough concentrations in the watershed, those substances can adversely affect aquatic health.

Teck has worked in cooperation with governments in both Canada and the U.S. as well as Indigenous groups, communities, independent scientific experts and others to develop the Elk Valley Water Quality Plan. The Plan, approved by the British Columbia government in 2014, is a comprehensive, long-term approach to address the management of selenium and other substances released by mining activities throughout the Elk Valley watershed, and is at the global forefront of managing water quality in mining.

Teck is committed to meeting the objectives of the Elk Valley Water Quality Plan and has made significant progress in developing measures to protect water quality in the Elk Valley. We have commissioned our first active water treatment facility at our Line Creek Operations, and started construction of a second facility at our Fording River Operations. We have also commissioned the first Saturated Rock Fill facility at Elkview Operations, a new form of water treatment pioneered by Teck.

Our goal is to stabilize and reverse the trend of selenium and other substances to ensure the ongoing health of the watershed, while at the same time allowing for continued sustainable mining in the region.


Research and Monitoring Reports

Research and Monitoring Reports
Results of ongoing water quality research and monitoring undertaken as part of the Elk Valley Water Quality Plan.
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Elk Valley Water Quality Plan

Teck’s focus is unwavering: to implement solutions to address water quality in the Elk Valley and be fully transparent with our stakeholders along this journey. This is a complex challenge connected to the long history of mining in the region, and we are committed to doing what is necessary to keep the watershed healthy for the future.

We have made significant progress delivering measures to protect water quality and aquatic life in the Elk Valley, including:

  • Commissioning our first Saturated Rock Fill facility at Elkview Operations in January 2018, which is now achieving near-complete removal of selenium and nitrate from 10 million litres of mine-affected water per day
  • Commissioning of an upgraded active water treatment facility at Line Creek Operations in October 2018, with a design capacity to treat 7.5 million litres of water each day
  • The start of construction of a new water treatment facility at our Fording River Operations in May 2018

We plan to invest up to $900 million over the next five years alone towards the construction of water treatment facilities.

On November 18, 2014, the B.C. Ministry of Environment approved an area-based management plan, called the Elk Valley Water Quality Plan (the Plan), developed by Teck to address the management of water quality constituents released by mining activities throughout the Elk River watershed.

Development of the Plan was informed by scientific advice received from a Technical Advisory Committee chaired by the B.C. Ministry of Environment, and including representatives from Teck, Environment Canada, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, State of Montana, Ktunaxa Nation, other provincial ministries, and an independent scientist. Public input was received through three phases of consultation conducted in Elk Valley communities.

The Plan establishes short, medium and long-term water quality targets which are protective of the environment and human health for selenium, nitrate, sulphate and cadmium, as well as a plan to manage calcite formation. The approved Plan is a public policy document that will guide future regulatory decision making regarding water quality and mining in the Elk Valley.

Teck continues to implement aquatic monitoring, water quality testing and various water quality management measures in order to achieve the target levels in the Plan. This work includes:

  • Commissioning our first Saturated Rock Fill facility at Elkview Operations in January 2018, which is now achieving near-complete removal of selenium and nitrate from 10 million litres of mine-affected water per day
  • Commissioning of an upgraded active water treatment facility at Line Creek Operations in October 2018, with a design capacity to treat 7.5 million litres of water each day
  • The start of construction of a new water treatment facility at our Fording River Operations in May 2018

Total capital spending on water treatment over the next five years is expected to be in the $850 to $900 million range.

Research and development (R&D) is a critical part of addressing water quality challenges in the Elk Valley. Teck’s research and development program for the Elk Valley has two main branches. The first is a comprehensive R&D program to determine how we can better design mines and mine structures such as waste dumps to protect water quality. The second examines new and emerging water treatment technologies to find the best methods for protecting water quality. The R&D work is organized around the main areas:

Waste Rock Design

Focus

How can new waste rock dumps be designed to lower the amounts of selenium and other substances being released and how can existing waste rock dumps be assessed and managed to minimize the release of these substances?

Researchers: University of Saskatchewan (1 MSc Student, staff); Montana State University

Recent work (2012):

  • Drilling and sampling of legacy waste rock piles undertaken at Line Creek, Elkview, Greenhills and Cardinal River operations
  • Gas and temperature monitoring instruments were installed at various locations
  • Geophysical surveys were conducted at each of the research areas
  • Intensive sampling of the Turncreek waste rock site, constructed at Fording River Operations specifically to allow evaluation of bottom-up dump construction
  • Continued work at research leach pads constructed at Cardinal River and Line Creek operations in 2007

More information

Poster: ‘Spatial Analysis of the Microbial Community in Mining Waste Rock: Activities & Signatures’   [1.11 MB]

Saturated Zones

Focus: How effective are natural and designed saturated zones in managing releases of selenium and other substances?

Researchers: University of Saskatchewan (Two MSc. Students)

Recent work

  • Preliminary sampling and instrumentation conducted of two saturated zones at Cardinal River Operations
  • Installed groundwater wells at Line Creek and Cardinal River in 2012 and sampled groundwater at the new wells and existing wells to inform conceptual models
  • Inventoried and compiled available rock and water chemistry data from all Teck coal operations to inform conceptual model development and aid in selection of research sites for 2013

Technology Implementation

Focus: What advances in source control or selenium treatment/emergent selenium technologies should be implemented at pilot or commercial scale?

Researchers: Various

Recent work

All of the research under the R&D program is aimed at identifying mine design approaches or technologies for source control to be implemented at commercial scale. A key question that will be considered by all researchers is how to scale up laboratory results to commercial size

Water Bodies

Focus: How can mine developed water bodies (like end of pit lakes) be used to manage releases of substances such as selenium?

Researchers: Teck

Recent work

  • Research ongoing into end of pit lakes to enhance selenium management
  • Process undertaken in 2012 to identify key questions and direction for upcoming research into this focus area

Processing Plants

Focus: How are tailings from the mine’s processing plant different with respect to release of substances such as selenium?

Researchers: Teck

Recent work

  • Inventory of tailings deposits to identify potential study sites conducted in 2012
  • Lab scale research on tailings conducted at ART in 2012

Reclamation

Focus: How do reclamation options affect the release of selenium and other substances, and how do they perform in meeting other reclamation objectives?

Researchers: McMaster University (One MSc student)

Recent work

  • Soil moisture and climate stations installed at locations in the Elk Valley and at Cardinal River Operations
  • Vegetation, soil and wildlife assessments conducted

Nitrate Management

Focus: What is the effectiveness of explosives (nitrates) management on minimizing nitrates in the watershed?

Researchers: Various

Recent work

This is at the program planning stage, though nitrates are a key focus in projects being conducted by researchers in other focus areas

Water Management

Focus: How do water management processes affect the releases of these substances and how can we maximize the effectiveness of water management?

Researchers: McMaster University (Four MSc students and one post-doctoral researcher)

Recent work

  • Identified West Line Creek as focus watershed to address key research questions around water balances for mine affected watersheds
  • Commenced research in 2012 with McMaster University on water balances for mine affected watersheds
  • Conducted snow surveys, with the data being used by researchers in all focus areas
  • Collected groundwater information to inform water balance research
  • Installed surface water balance instrumentation at three elevations at West Line Creek to collect data

More information

Poster: The influence of surface mining on catchment response in Elk Valley, B.C

Calcite

Focus: Can we stop calcite from forming or safely control it?

Researchers: Teck

Recent work

Substantial research and monitoring into calcite was been conducted previously and that work continued through 2012
Further work undertaken in 2012 to further develop the research into this field through 2013

Rock Drains

Focus: How do rock drains affect the release of substances such as selenium?

Researchers: University of Saskatchewan (Post-doctoral researcher)

Recent work

  • Commenced evaluation of rock drains at Elkview and Line Creek operations
  • Drilling and sampling of waste dumps at both operations in 2012
  • Instrumentation installed at Elkview waste dump
  • Bench-scale testing conducted at University of Saskatchewan to evaluate rock drain effluent treatment
  • Inventory and classification system established for rock drains

Teck is conducting extensive studies and monitoring of water quality and aquatic health which includes at a minimum monthly water quality sampling at approximately 100 stations in the Elk Valley. Click here to view related reports.

Studies and monitoring indicate that the concentrations of selenium and other substances are not affecting fish populations, but effects on some types of benthic invertebrates (certain types of mayflies) have been observed in specific downstream areas and studies are being undertaken to determine the cause. Factors may include both mining-related and natural factors, such as nitrate concentrations, temperature trends and annual variation in river flow.  

Teck conducted a comprehensive evaluation of potential effects on human health and groundwater. This evaluation compared concentrations of selenium and other constituents against conservative health-protective benchmarks for swimming, incidental ingestion, eating fish or drinking groundwater. Results of this analysis concluded that current concentrations of constituents in water, sediment or fish for activities such as drinking, swimming, or consuming locally caught fish do not present unacceptable human health risks.

Drinking water guidelines for selenium and nitrate are exceeded in some parts of the watershed, meaning that local health authorities should be consulted prior to use of surface water as a drinking water supply. It was also noted that groundwater from a small number of wells exceeded the provincial guideline for selenium but remained well below the Health Canada guideline. Further monitoring is being conducted of wells that exceed guidelines, as well as those that are within 30% of guideline.

As groundwater is intrinsically linked to surface water quality in parts of the Elk Valley, it is expected that the actions taken through the Plan to reduce and manage surface water levels of selenium and nitrate will also manage groundwater quality over time.

Frequently Asked Questions

Selenium is a naturally occurring element that is essential and beneficial for all animals, including humans. Selenium’s main purpose in the human body is to help protect our cells from damage and keep our immune system working properly. The average North American gets sufficient selenium in their daily diet. Foods such as tuna and whole wheat flour are high in selenium. However, selenium can be harmful to the reproductive processes of aquatic wildlife when concentrations are too high.

The Elk Valley Water Quality Plan was developed by Teck in cooperation with governments in Canada and the United States, Indigenous groups, communities, independent scientific experts and others, and was approved by the B.C. Government in 2014.

 

  • The Elk Valley Water Quality Plan sets water quality targets to protect aquatic and human health.
  • It outlines the water treatment and mitigation measures to achieve those targets and sets out how we’ll monitor water quality.
  • We have also committed to a research and development program to explore new and better ways to manage water quality, and an adaptive management strategy to change how we implement the plan based on new information and learnings, including the results of our research and development.

We have made significant progress delivering measures to protect water quality and aquatic life in the Elk Valley, including:

  • Commissioning our first Saturated Rock Fill facility at Elkview Operations in January 2018, which is now achieving near-complete removal of selenium and nitrate from 10 million litres of mine-affected water per day
  • The recommissioning of an upgraded active water treatment facility at Line Creek Operations in October 2018, with a design capacity to treat 7.5 million litres of water each da
  • The start of construction of a new water treatment facility at our Fording River Operations in May 2018

You can send us your comments, suggestions and questions using the form below. Further detail regarding consultation during implementation of the Plan will be posted on this page in the future.

Teck conducted a comprehensive evaluation of potential effects on human health and groundwater. This evaluation compared concentrations of selenium and other constituents against conservative health-protective benchmarks for swimming, incidental ingestion, eating fish or drinking groundwater. Results of this analysis concluded that current concentrations of constituents in water, sediment or fish for activities such as drinking, swimming, or consuming locally caught fish do not present unacceptable human health risks.

Our monitoring indicates that concentrations of selenium and other substances are not affecting fish populations, but effects on some types of benthic invertebrates (certain types of mayflies) have been observed in specific downstream areas and studies are being undertaken to determine the cause.

Naturally-occurring materials that can enter the watershed as a result of mining are selenium, cadmium, sulphate and calcite. Nitrate, which results from the blasting process in mining, can also enter the watershed. Management of each of these substances is addressed in the Elk Valley Water Quality Plan.

Cadmium is an element that occurs naturally in rock and is most commonly used in batteries. Increased concentrations may affect aquatic health. Sulphate is a naturally occurring substance containing sulphur and oxygen that can be found in mine runoff water. Nitrate is a salt that is a byproduct of the blasting process at mines. It can have a negative effect on aquatic health in high concentrations. Calcite is a hard, rocky substance that can form on riverbeds, the same mineral that forms in tea kettles or water heaters in homes with hard water. Calcite formation can be accelerated by runoff water from mines. It is not a health concern, but can impact fish habitat.

Feedback

We welcome your questions, feedback and suggestions regarding the Elk Valley Water Quality Plan or other topics on an ongoing basis through this form.


Additional Resources

Technical Advisory Committee
 
A Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) was formed to provide science-based advice for the development of Teck’s Elk Valley Water Quality Plan. Information on the TAC and input provided into the development of the EVWQP is available at: https://elkvalleytac.wordpress.com/

Environmental Monitoring Committee Public Reports

The Environmental Monitoring Committee (EMC) is established under Environmental Monitoring Act permit 107517 to review monitoring submissions required under the permit. The EMC prepares a public report annually summarizing monitoring activities reviewed by the committee.

Environmental Monitoring Committee 2018 Public Report

Environmental Monitoring Committee 2017 Public Report

Environmental Monitoring Committee 2016 Public Report

Environmental Monitoring Committee 2015 Public Report 


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